Tres Rojas Winery’s operation consists of a vineyard in Pekin, a Manito business address, and a production room and storage room in a warehouse building in Morton. The two co-owners, Bob Barry and Lisa O’Sullivan of Morton, work full-time jobs and must produce and market their products in whatever time they can spare after their normal working hours or during weekends. Neither of them had made wine before opening Tres Rojas in 2016 but both Barry and O’Sullivan have longstanding interests in wine and wine-making. They have also had ample opportunities to observe the craft during tours of area wineries over the years.
“We’d been touring wineries in Illinois, Michigan and several other places,” said Barry. “We thought that going into the wine business would be a good second career for both of us. We started out by buying kits and learning as much as we could about making wine. In 2015, we started experimenting with making our first batches.”
The experiments were successful enough that Barry and O’Sullivan entered their wines in the amateur competition at the 2015 Illinois State Fair and in the American Wine Society’s 2015 national amateur competition. Their accolades, which included two gold medals and six silver medals at the Illinois State Fair and a double gold medal, eight silver and two bronze medals in the American Wine Society competition, convinced them that they were on a path to success as vintners.
In 2016, Barry and O’Sullivan applied for and received a federal permit to make and sell wine from the Tax and Trade Bureau and a state permit from the Illinois Liquor Control Commission. Tres Rojas Winery was born in July 2016. At first, they operated out of Barry’s home in Manito. When he moved to Morton, he and O’Sullivan acquired their production and inventory room there. They will change their business address to a Morton location in 2018, when they renew their license as a limited liability company.
Barry and O’Sullivan were in accord that their favorite aspect of the wine industry in Illinois has been the people they have met.
“The wine-making community in Illinois is really cohesive,” said Barry. “The Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association holds meetings in different locations around the state. In November, we went to a meeting at Mackinaw Valley Vineyards with a lot of other wine-makers from central Illinois. Everyone brought in wine that they were working on and passed them around the table for constructive criticism. We’re all trying to make Illinois wine better.”
“For me, the wine industry was always appealing,” said O’Sullivan. “We’ve visited a number of wineries in the area. It’s very exciting to be a part of this industry. The industry people we’ve met have been really helpful and supportive.”
At the Tres Rojas vineyard in Pekin, Barry and O’Sullivan grow Leon Millot, Marquette, and St. Croix grapes for their red and rose wines and Seyval Blanc and Traminette grapes for their white varieties. In all, Tres Rojas Winery produces 17 different types of wine, ranging from the full-bodied red San Giovese to the light-in-both-color-and-taste chardonnay to selections flavored with rhubarb, strawberries or pumpkins. The winery’s products are currently available at Friar Tucks Beverage stores in Peoria, Springfield and Bloomington; two Hy-Vee supermarkets in Peoria; Unclaimed Freight Store in Peoria; the Liquor Station and Yogi’s Liquor in Morton; Broadway Liquors in Pekin and Liquor Depot in East Peoria. When Barry retires in 2018 from his position as a refuge manager with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, he plans on devoting more time to expanding Tres Rojas.
“We’re working with a commercial realtor and trying to find a location in Morton where we can have the vineyard, production area and a tasting room all in the same spot,” said Barry. “Bigger premises will allow us to have people come in, taste the wines, and buy a bottle from us right there. Once we get our vineyard up to full production, we’ll be able to make a lot more wine. Also, Lisa and I have been talking about holding small events to get people to come to the winery.”